In his 35 years as town historian of Clifton Park, John Scherer has documented many colorful stories about Ed Klingbeil, a former owner of the Grooms Tavern. Isabelle Prescott, however, actually remembers the man.
“I’m told he was very nice to children, but I was a shy kid and I was afraid to go in there,” she said, referring to Klingbeil and his general store at the southwest corner of Grooms and Sugar Hill roads. “I thought he was a grumpy old guy. I should have been more outgoing. Maybe he would have given me some free candy.”
Before it was Klingbeil’s store, the building was known as Grooms Tavern and that’s the name that has stuck. Owned by the town of Clifton Park and maintained by The Friends of Historic Grooms Tavern, the building, which dates to 1825, will be on display Sunday for an open house.
Grooms Tavern Holiday Open House
WHAT: An open house with refreshments and music provided by Sweet Briar Consort
WHERE: Grooms Tavern, 290 Sugar Hill Road, Clifton Park
WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.groomstavern.com
-Klingbeil and his wife, Mabel, owned and operated the building as a general store from 1922 until his death in 1970.
Scherer, a former curator at the New York State Museum, grew up in Albany and Voorheesville and didn’t move to Clifton Park until after the store was closed. As for Prescott’s story about free candy for children, Scherer isn’t so sure that would have been the case.
“We have a number of really interesting stories about Ed,” said Scherer.
“He was known for hiding money and being a bit of a skinflint. People have told me that when he went to church he would always arrive late, after the collection plate had been passed.”
Klingbeil also was known for wearing a red toupee, although visitors to the store would often catch him without it on.
“He’d have it on the counter, and then when somebody came in he would plop it on his head and it would always be askew,” said Scherer. “I have people my age tell me that when they were kids, they’d go there for ice cream but they would never eat the cone because he would have been out pumping gas and then hurried back into the store to serve them, and his hands would be greasy and grubby.”
Upon Klingbeil’s death, the building continued to be run as a country store by Kenneth and Mary Jane Baird. But in 1999, Robert Williams and Kathy Hedrick, then owners of the building, sold it to the town after their plans for a restaurant fell through.
Set up like store
“It was empty and saw a lot of neglect for about 10 years,” said Scherer. “Now, fortunately, it’s doing very well. We’ve received some grants to help with the renovations and have restored the place to look the way it did in the 19th century.”
When Scherer says “we,” he means the town and the Friends group, which was created in 2001. Prescott, who owns nearby Riverview Orchards, is the president of the Friends group.
“It’s owned by the town and we help raise funds to take care of it and run the programming,” said Prescott. “We use it for historic and cultural purposes, and our ultimate goal is to make sure that the building and two other buildings in that vicinity will always be available for the community for meetings, art nights and other programs.”
Visitors walk into the front of the building, which is set up as a general store the way the interior would have looked in the second half of the 19th century. While the upstairs is still being renovated, the rest of the ground floor is open to the public and includes a “wagon wheel room,” where public meetings are held, and the ladies parlor, now called the “Van Vranken Room,” where artifacts donated by Van Vranken and Clark family members include a stove and 19th century furniture.
A 19th century flavor
The building is in Grooms Corners, a hamlet within the town. There is no official governmental entity connected to the area these days. For a time, the tavern did also serve as a post office. While a smaller building had been erected on the site around 1800, it was James Groom who built the current structure in 1825 and began operating the place as a tavern.
In 1828, when the town of Clifton Park was formed by breaking away from town of Halfmoon, the first town board meeting was held at Grooms Tavern.
“The Erie Canal opened around 1825, and the brand new tavern, located on a busy road between Schenectady and Waterford, had also opened around that time,” said Scherer.
“It’s amazing, but that corner has retained its 19th century flavor. Clifton Park was an agricultural community, and as people got older they would move into the hamlets and leave the farm to their children.”
The hamlet of Grooms Corners never got much bigger than it was 200 years ago, unlike other areas of Clifton Park such as Elnora, Jonesville and Clifton Park Center. It did, however, survive, as did the hamlet of Vischer Ferry, which was the second settlement in what is today Clifton Park. The first was Forts Ferry, which was eliminated during the construction of the New York State Barge Canal in 1915.
“The river was the Thruway of its day, and that’s where people originally settled,” said Scherer. “Forts Ferry was founded when they came across the river at that point around 1727, and Vischer Ferry was around 1790. Then, as more people came into the area, the population centers moved inland away from the river.”
Documenting all of that history is part of the mission for The Friends of Historic Grooms Tavern.
“We’re taking things step by step and trying to make sure our priorities are correct, but our ultimate goal is to have all three buildings serving as useful resources for our community,” said Prescott, referring to a blacksmith shop adjacent to Grooms Tavern and a nearby grange hall.
“The tavern is a wonderful opportunity for our residents to take a step back in time and enjoy our history, and our open house on Sunday is a great way to celebrate our traditions.”